Whether you prefer a comedy about a group of friends in the Big Apple, following the lives of gangsters in New Jersey or watching a show about nothing, most people look back on their favourite TV show with a fondness for the characters and their stories.
The same can be said for the fans of Ships of the Northern Fleet (SOTNF), but there is just one big difference. That show, despite garnering thousands of online fans, never actually existed.
SOTNF is actually a crowd-sourced sci-fi experiment, created by British Columbia-based “writer and performer” Tyler James Nicol, via a TikTok video. In the video, Nicol asks his viewers to “participate in a hallucinatory experience" by sharing their favourite memories, moments and characters from a show that has never has and never will exist.
Stroud native Gary Hampton came across the video and was immediately intrigued.
“The idea was fascinating. I’ve always been drawn to the concept, in the general sense of life, of what is real," he said.
Hampton, who has worked in the film and television industry for the last 15 years, told BarrieToday about his experience of creating realities out of nothing and living in the fake world of creating a movie or television show, lent itself well to this experiment.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the angle of what is real, so this just seems like something that was made for me. When I saw that no one else had taken the angle of being a part of the show, I thought my background lends itself to that angle. I just jumped in," he said. "I thought it would be something I would love to play around with and thought it would be five minutes of my time and then I’d be moving on to the next fun thing.
“I saw the video a short time after it was posted and I was the first one to jump in on it with a new angle and say I used to be a child actor on that show," Hampton added. "Honestly, I thought that would be it. I had fun with this little thing and would be moving on, but then it really blew up over the first couple weeks.”
By the end of the first couple of days, he said the “show” had a core cast of five members.
Hampton’s character is named Meadow, a nod to a park near his childhood home that meant a lot to him growing up.
“We started talking to each other and watching this thing build and build. We ended up doing Google meets with 'found' scripts that never happened," he said. "This is a show that never existed, but we’ve created this fan base that discusses their favourite moments, their favourite characters and creates fan art. We have an extensive Wiki page now with lots of lore.”
SOTNF has opened up an entire new world for Hampton, who says meeting and connecting with like-minded people from all over the place has been one of the best parts of being part of the whole thing.
“This core group of people who are now behind SOTNF here, has just become this really comforting group of friends … who I never would have met without it. (We are) all very supportive of one another and all have very similar ideas about life," he said. "Outside of that is this massive community of people. It’s such an easy access point and such a fun thing we are doing — and because the door is wide open for anyone to play along that people have come and joined in.”
The “cast” he said has even participated in live streams, table reads and question and answer sessions with “viewers.”
“People would ask us questions in character and we’d have this improv game starting where we’d read back on these old 'scripts' that we’d forgotten about. Part of those would be left open for improv. Sometimes the script would give us a line and then just say 'sing a song' or 'tell us about why you hate this other character'.”
They have also taken part in a Comic-Con panel and have already been invited to more. A recent New York Times article has even drawn the attention of some industry execs, who have approached the group about turning SOTNF into something bigger and creating actual content.
“It’s somewhat ironic because we are now talking about creating real content based on something that never existed and was never meant to exist.”
While the prospect is exciting, Hampton believes the important thing about SOTNF is that it exists in everyone’s mind — and he feels it should stay that way.
“An actual show should never be made. On our end, we are having these discussions and having people reaching out, but what we’d like to see happen is a mockumentary… about a reunion of this old cast and this old show,” he said. “What Fleet is now exists in our heads… but I think there is room for that or a more meta-angle to explore what is currently happening, which is the goal of us meeting up in real life to do some panels.”
Hampton believes shooting the “cast” meeting up in person for the first time and participating in real-life panel discussions would be the ideal opportunity to shoot the mockumentary.
“In a real-life moment, where we are meeting these other cast members for the first time, it is going to be emotional and a moment of positivity. If we had a camera there to capture it, it would play as if it truly was a reunion and it would have similar emotions and a similar impact," he said. "I think there’s room to play and to continue this improv we’ve created.”